Talk about a CD with postponed release date, almost competing with Guns 'N Roses "Chinese Democracy"! The big difference is however that this one was really worth waiting for! When I did a gear-interview with John, at the time the new Europe album was released, he revealed his new solo album would be of the "bluesier kind". His last solo album "Optimus" was more in the same vein as Europe's reunion-platter with detuned riffs and a more modern approach, an album that didn't fully hit home with me.
Ok, John, all is now forgiven; "Play Yard Blues" is the album we (at least I) have been longing for. Here he shows his love for the seventies, both in his own songs and in his interpretations of Frank Marino's "Ditch Queen", Mountain's "Travellin' In The Dark" and Thin Lizzy's outstanding "It's Only Money". If we start with the cover songs, he hasn't strayed away too much from the original versions.
For example in "Ditch Queen" he sounds very much like Frank both in his vocals approach and in his lead guitar playing. The influences really shine through. The opening track of the album, "Let It Shine", also could have been penned by said Marino with its heavy and slightly funky verse riff. If John had to hold back on his solos on the Europe album, he's really compensated it here. I'm not saying he's over-playing, but where there's place for a nice lick, he sure doesn't rob us of the moment.
In "Red Light Green High" he also shows a slightly cooler side, which made me think of bassist Tomas Torberg's ordinary band Plankton. Norum also sings really laid back and nice on this one, something he also does in "Over And Done", which stylewise made me think of some of Glenn Hughe's better solo albums. A singer John has used on some of his earlier recordings is Leif Sundin, a sadly rarely heard killer vocalist these days. Here he puts his vocal flair on the classic hard rocker "Got My Eyes On You" and the CD's heaviest and most modern sounding track "Born Again", the only track with detuned guitars. It however doesn't stick out in a negative way, but more completes a great collection of tracks.
The album ends with the title track that, as the title may suggest, is a play yard for guitarist, an instrumental improvisation number in the sign of blues with Europe colleague Mic Michaeli adding some nice Hammond organ to the brew. I'd also like to give some praise to John's tasty rhythm boys, the outstandingly groovy Tomas Broman on drums and the aforementioned Plankton bassist Torberg, not forgetting percussionist Peer Stappe. These guys really put the swagger in On-mode in this killer retro-journey.
Hats off to a first-rate craft and an album that has found its way nicely into my car stereo and will surely stay there for a long time ahead.
also review of: Optimus